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The Insider's guide to...The Queen

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(CNN) -- Monarch of the silver screen: Everything you wanted to know about the critically acclaimed movie "The Queen."

Oh no, not another sex 'n drugs rock biopic!

Not that Queen! Directed by acclaimed British filmmaker Stephen Frears, this is a feature film about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. "A love letter to the Queen and to timeless monarchical values," as it was described in the UK's Financial Times newspaper.

It's her life story, then?

Not exactly. Set in 1997, the movie focuses on the traumatic seven days following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, exploring the tense relationship between the newly elected Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and Queen Elizabeth. Viewers are offered an intimate glimpse of the fictionalized life of the Queen as she endeavors to cope with the aftermath of Diana's death, struggling to balance her own emotional reserve with the public's demand for an open display of grief from their monarch.

Is any of it true?

Frears and the film's writer, Peter Morgan, combine dramatic reconstruction with genuine footage of the royal family, and while the dialogue itself is fictionalized, as are many of the scenes of royal life, the movie is nonetheless based on real events, drawing extensively on interviews with experts and insiders. All in all it offers a wholly believable, if occasionally caricatured behind-the-scenes look at a momentous week in modern British history.

How does Her Majesty come off?

This is certainly not a reverential portrait. The movie takes great delight in spot-lighting the idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of the royal family -- Prince Phillip refers to his wife as "cabbage" -- and is, as a result, and despite the somber backdrop, extremely funny. At the same time it treats its subject with considerable affection, and there is something both moving and tragic in its portrayal of a deeply traditional, protocol-bound monarch buffeted by events beyond her control. A scene in which a troubled, tearful Elizabeth encounters a wild stag is especially powerful. While die-hard monarchists might wish for a little more deference and respect, there is nothing here to further the republican cause.

And what about Tony Blair?

Blair's portrayal is perhaps more caricatured than that of the Queen -- at one point he is depicted wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Blair" and "Number 10" on back -- and, certainly in the early scenes, he comes across as both dithering and opportunist as he attempts to make political capital from Diana's death. As with the Queen herself, however, he grows in confidence and stature as the movie progresses, and by the end you can't help but feel a certain sympathy for him when, with considerable prescience, the Queen assures him that one day he too will find people turning against him.

Apparently Dame Helen Mirren is pretty good in the title role.

All the film's main performers are excellent, especially Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, reprising a role he played in Frears' earlier film "The Deal." Mirren, however, is in a class of her own, delivering a performance of matchless power and subtlety, one in which she quite literally transforms herself into Queen Elizabeth and for which she deservedly won the Best Actress gong at the Venice Film Festival (the film also won the award for Best Screenplay). "Mirren is a revelation as the Queen," gushes the Sunday Times newspaper. "A prim, mannered matron who wears her regrets like tea stains."

Worth seeing?

Absolutely. Witty, poignant, intelligent, irreverent, this is a glorious peak through the keyhole of contemporary British history.

Paul Sussman and Madalina Iacob contributed to this report.

Helen Mirren won the Best Actress gong at the Venice Film Festival for her portrayal of Elizabeth II.




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